Francesco Guerrera is a multi award-winning Art Director with a deep passion for calligraphy. He has worked in some of the biggest international agencies, serving as Italy’s youngest ever Executive Creative Director at the time. Today he is a partner at Le Balene, which in 2015 founded Acqua su Marte; a new model of agency in Italy that merges culture, content creation, advertising and events in one place.
What does calligraphy mean to you?
Every day for the last ten years I have practised calligraphy. You can never stop learning it, it’s impossible to know completely. I’m still learning it. I find a moment in my day, usually 10 to 15 minutes when I can channel my energy into it. My mentor, Paul Antonio, says that calligraphy is 80% about the mind, and 20% about the hand. It’s all in your head; the hand is just reproducing what your head is thinking. That’s why I try to make the most of those 10 minutes. It’s not about the amount of time you spend on it, it’s about the amount of concentration and energy you exert in that time.
It’s very challenging mentally and physically to sit for much longer. Your body has to be in a certain position. Your posture and breathing is very important. The most difficult thing about calligraphy is the mindset, not the skill itself.
You operate in both analogue and digital realms. Is there a tension between the two, or do you navigate between them seamlessly?
My inspiration tends to come from the digital world, but most of my work happens in analogue. That’s why I have two Instagram profiles; they show the two different souls I have inside me. I am fully analogue to a certain point, and I am fully digitally integrated too. When I work in analogue I need to respect my heritage as a calligrapher, but in digital I just need to be able to experiment. Usually this involves two different parts of my brain, but I love to blend the two parts of myself together because that’s when there are no rules, just the objective to amaze.
Does calligraphy activate a different cognitive reaction than the one you use for art direction?
Totally. I can feel my heart beating when I do calligraphy as it’s a much slower process. You have to take time to make decisions on paper. In my studio right now I have collected hundreds of different kinds of paper, from Chinese rice paper to South American brown paper, so when I approach a new personal project in calligraphy it takes me longer to prepare the mindset. With digital, I go and let the stuff flow and it’s an easier approach because you can always undo what you’ve done. In fact, if I work on a digital project for a long time and then go back to paper, my mind sometimes tricks me into reaching for the command + Z keys!
Having said that, I work a lot with different inks, and I know exactly how to achieve a specific effect on paper, like blowing on the page or splatting ink onto it in a matter of seconds. That’s harder to recreate in digital. It’s a funny process.
In 2016 you sent Moleskine sketchbooks to 25 calligraphers around the world and invited them to Milan for the exhibition. What does the calligraphy community mean to you?
It’s amazing because we share a passion and love for letterforms and calligraphy, but talking with a guy in Manila or North Dakota we’re all so culturally different. We have learned so much from each other, growing not just as a community but also as individuals. It’s a precious thing for me to be able to talk to people from all over the world and bring them together away from social media. That’s where the idea for The Design of Words came from: to bring it back to paper and back to real life. This back and forth created a real bond between us as a group.
Why do you think there is a rising interest in calligraphy in the age of social media?
The exhibition in Milan was a game changer for me. Engaging with people on social media is great, but having 2,000 people in my studio over four days looking at real paper and real sized artwork is something I will never forget. People were amazed, it was like a kindergarten, where they were discovering something for the first time, and having an amazing experience.
Social media has done a lot to bring calligraphy to the masses, but we must take a stand for quality. We have to draw a line between professionals and amateurs who take one class, call themselves an expert and start charging people for lessons. These people have no understanding of the culture and history that came before us. But the most exciting thing is that calligraphy has not peaked yet. There is still so much left for us to do, it’s just a matter of time. The book is just the starting point.